I am delighted to be interviewing Elizabeth Gill on the day her new book comes out - The Guardian Angel.
Good morning Elizabeth and thank you for agreeing to answer some questions for OAPSchat Please help yourself to a piece of sponge cake and I will pour the tea. Here is a bit of background information about you for our readers.
Elizabeth Gill was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and as a child lived in Tow Law, a small mining town on the Durham fells. She has been a published author for over thirty years and has written more than forty books. She lives in Durham City, likes the awful weather in the north east and writes best when rain is lashing the windows.
Just over twelve months ago, you wrote this super article for my page. http://www.oapschat.co.uk/authors-publications/a-success-story-at-65-years-old-sharing-my-writing-life-with-you-and-my-backlist-on-kindle
Your latest book is out today, so many congratulations! Could we start our interview by learning a bit about The Guardian Angel?
The Guardian Angel is about a woman who owns a sweetshop in Stanhope in the Durham dale who begins writing letters to a young man who is in Durham prison for killing an other man when he was nineteen. The local minister asks his congregation if they will write to this man who has been in gaol for nine years but Alice Lee is the only one who responds. She sends him sweets and when he comes out of gaol she takes him into her home to the horror of the local Weardale people.
I would like to go way back for the second question and ask you to describe your early childhood and where you grew up?
I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and lived in a tiny pit village up on the Durham fells. My father owned a steelworks there which my grandfather bought and took on as the family business. Sixty men from the village worked there. I had a very prosperous childhood which was rare since I was born five years after the end of the second world war. Lots of people had little. My mother was a farmer’s daughter from Eastgate in Weardale. We lived in a beautiful big house with fields, big gardens and stables, we had the best of everything. When I was five my father bought a static caravan up on a site on the Northumberland coast and we went there every weekend in the summer.
What was your favourite subject at school?
I was very good at science when I was about eleven but the choices then were arts or sciences and since I was no good at maths I went in for arts. I was useless at school. We were wild children and loved the fells and none of us liked school or wanted to be there. I hated being taught what to do and the education system then for girls was appalling. In the end it was all about becoming a teacher and marrying the right man. Awful.
Have you always read a lot and did you have a favourite author or authors whilst you were growing up?
I was lucky enough so that people bought me books. Every time one of my aunts went to town they came back with a hardback. I was introduced to Enid Blyton when I was eight by my teacher, who used to read to us in the afternoons and it opened a whole world for me but I learned to read Mary Mouse when I was four. I can remember reading to my mother while she ironed. I couldn’t actually read the words so I made them up because the book was full of clever illustrations. I read all the time now and at night I listen to audio books as I go to sleep.
What was your first job?
I began working for a weekly newspaper when I was nineteen straight after leaving school. I didn’t really like it, I always wanted to write fiction and the world of journalism was hard. I think I am quite good at writing facts and learned a great deal but I didn’t enjoy it.
Are all your books set in this country?
My books are mostly set in north east England but sometimes they include other areas. The Guardian Angel is partly set in the Lakes because I go walking in the Lakes and love it dearly. One of the main characters, Charles Westbrooke, comes from Shap and in the follow up which I am writing now two of the characters come from that area as well as Charles.
How do you plan your research?
I don’t plan my research, I get the ideas first and then do the research as I go along. I never know what is going to happen. For the Guardian Angel I had to learn a lot about making sweets, chocolate and ice cream and also about Durham gaol which was horrific at the time. I also research general history, the time, local history, dress, ideas, religion, herbs, recipes, attitudes. I spend a lot of time walking in Weardale and take in the industries of mining, farming and quarrying. The book is set in Stanhope around a limestone quarry. This was a real quarry and at one time two hundred men worked there. I plan a whole series around the quarry and the people who lived in the area.
Do you have time for hobbies?
I spend several hours a day reading. Sometimes this includes research but I have a hugely curious mind and read lots of fiction, history, biography, crime. I love food and wine, classical music, theatre, ballet, pretty clothes and shoes, going on holiday and spending time in my beloved Stanhope where the sunrises and sunsets, the birds, the fields, the hills and the river inspire me. Also Durham City where I live which is wonderful, small, and is within ten minutes reach of everything I need.
If one of your books could be made into a film, which one would you choose and who would play the lead character?
I would like the Guardian Angel made into a film, horrific scenes in the gaol and the the insular society which Zeb comes back to where Alice tries to help Zeb and others. Also we could have scenes shot in the lakes, very beautiful and since there are half a dozen really important characters I don’t know much about actors and it would be difficult to choose.
What are your plans for the rest of 2017?
Quercus are doing a paperback run of my book Snow Angels in November. The paperback of The Guardian Angel comes out in August. I am finishing my next book, the second in the Weardale series in August. I go away to write, I am going to be spending time in Greece in May, Wales in June, the Northumberland coast in the autumn and I will be walking my daughter’s Labrador on Bamburgh beach. When the next book is finished I will start the third in the series.
FIVE QUICK ANSWERS PLEASE!
Holiday in UK or Overseas?
I love going away. Last November I went to Nova Scotia to do research and write. In January I went to Budapest to the opera and the ballet.I would very much like to go to Tasmania. I don’t like hot weather.
Sweet or savoury dish?
I don’t like sweet stuff. Cheese and wine is my favourite.
A day out shopping or relaxing at home watching old films on TV?
I love shopping. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for food or clothes . I don’t stay at home as I work at home and live alone but I do have a summerhouse and read in there and admire the garden and the spuggies playing in the birdbath.
Reading books on Kindle or Paperback?
I have two kindles, mostly for my audio books. I buy paperbacks, I buy books online, I have a huge library of history books which take in everything from dress to industry, I haunt my local library. I love hardbacks because they are so beautiful to handle. I just love the whole concept of books. Cookery, books on birds with illustrations, household stuff, architecture, and anything I can learn more about.
Desert Island Disc luxury item?
Can I have Brad Pitt? Other than that an endless supply of cheese and wine.
Many thanks once again Elizabeth, I wish you every success with your new novel and please keep writing!